THE VICTORIAN BEDROOM

Generally young children slept in the same room as their parents.
This could go on till the age of 10 or 11 in some cases. Some upper middle and upper class married couples had separate bedrooms. This was the genteel thing to do, if there was not enough room, then the husband may have had his own dressing room, even if it meant he had to use the closet under the stairs. The mode of sleeping apart never gained wide usage in America. Brothers and sisters shared bedrooms until it was decided that they were too old to properly do so.

The prevailing Victorian ideal was a single use for each room. In earlier years, rooms were multifunctional. Beds could be found in just about any room in a house, and you could entertain a guest in your bedroom.
In the book “He Knew He Was Right” the narrator said “It was one of the theories of her life that different rooms should be used only for the purposes for which they were intended. She never allowed pens and ink up into the bed-rooms, and had she ever heard that any guest in her house was reading in bed, she would have made an instant personal attack upon that guest.” A bit extreme, but it well illustrates the idea.

Furniture that was no longer good enough for the formal rooms downstairs made its way into the bedrooms. A woman described her room in the 1850’s and 1860’s, especially the carpet “ a threadbare monstrosity, with great sprawling green leaves and red blotches.” ( red and green were done to death in the first half of the Victorian period) The carpet had started in the drawing room, and when it got old, was cut and moved to the bedroom. The same woman described what happened to the dining room carpet. After 20 years it was cut and moved to the children’s school room. When it got too old for that, it got demoted to the girl’s bedroom. After that it might get recut and placed in a servants room, and finally be cut again and put in the kitchen. All this before vacuum cleaners. Imagine how dirty it was. The only cleaning in 40 years was the sweep of a broom or an occasional beating.

Bedroom furniture started showing up around the middle of the century. This was when some care started to be given to the d├ęcor in these rooms. A bedroom might contain a central table, a wardrobe, a toilet table, chairs, a small bookcase and a chiffonier, which in England was a small, low cupboard with a sideboard top. (In America the name chiffonier applies to a chest of drawers ).The nightstand did not yet exist.
The bed might be four postered, with curtains. There would also be a wash-stand, a tall mirror and maybe a couch or chaise lounge. If you could not afford a wardrobe, books showed you how to devise a closet in the space next to the chimney, or in a corner, with a curtain across it. Clothes were often stored in boxes and trays. Closets did exist in some homes even in the 1700’s, but there were more that had none than does that did. In the mid 1800’s clothes closets were usually about 14 to 18 inches deep. Clothes were hung from pegs or folded. Hangers were not in general use till the 20th century. They were initially called ‘shoulders’. A small house and yards and yards of dress fabric meant that they were forever looking for places to store things. Books were constantly showing how to make benches and ottomans with hidden storage areas. Even coats were folded and put into cupboards.


Toilet ware came in a wide range of cost and varieties. A typical washstand had towel rails on both sides and sometimes a tile backsplash.If there was no backsplash, a piece of cloth would be hung on the wall behind the stand to protect the wall from splashes. There would be a basin, a jug, soap dish, water bottle and glass, a sponge-dish, a toothbrush dish, and a nail brush dish. A lidded chamber pot often matched the above items. A hip bath might also be in the bedroom. They did not have bedside tables. Nurses who came to care for a sick person were to bring a table to set by the bed for the medicines.

During the second half of the century the Victorians started
learning how diseases were transmitted and became obsessed with the subject of hygiene. Bed curtains started coming down, or at least were made much lighter. Not everyone agreed on the subject of bed curtains. Some declared them unhealthy, others, as late as 1869 felt that the drafts were more dangerous than the dirty bed hangings.

Gas lights were not used upstairs as a rule. They used too much oxygen, one could get asphyxiated. Candles were used instead. In the 1890’s a glorious new invention was advertised. It was luminous paint and people started putting it everywhere, so they could get around and find the blasted matches to light a candle.

Apart from the kitchen the most worrisome area to be bug infested was the bed. The best mattresses were filled with horsehair, next step down was cow’s hair, then wool. A straw mattress was often put down under a hair one to protect it from the iron bedstead. Chain-spring mattresses were available in the second half of the century, but they were
expensive, and they still needed a hair mattress over them. A square of sheeting was often tied over the springs to prevent them from chewing up the mattress, which was then covered in sheeting to protect it from soot and dirt. If the bed had no springs, a feather bed could be added on top of the mattress. These were expensive and hard to maintain. An under blanket was usually put over the hair mattress.

All this needed to be turned and shaken every day, because the fibers tended to mat and clump. Your linens would consist of an under sheet tucked into the lowest mattress to protect it from soot, a bottom sheet, a top sheet, blanket (in winter 3-4 of them), a bolster, and pillows. They would be covered in Holland sheeting then with pillowcases. One good housekeeping writer recommended that blankets be washed every other summer, and sheets once a month, unless 2 people shared the bed, then wash every 2 weeks.

Not all sheets were washed at once. The bottom sheet would be taken off and replaced with the top sheet and a clean top sheet put on. The main bedding cleaning was twice a year, spring and fall. The mattresses and pillows would be taken out and aired and every few years taken completely apart, washed, and feathers sifted to get rid of dust. This kind of work could only be accomplished if you had enough room and help. Many could not manage it.

A good housewife was expected to check the bedding for fleas and vermin every week. If you found them it meant a major war had to be waged. The bed would have to be taken apart and the pieces washed or soaked with chloride of lime and water. The room had to thoroughly cleaned and
disinfected. All cracks had to be repaired and sealed. If the infestation was out of control the bed would be put in an empty room which was sealed airtight and then sulfur was burned to disinfect the bed and surrounding area.
People mistrusted laundries because they weren’t sure of what might be in their things when they were returned.
They felt the same way about buying used furniture.

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